Prep Baseball & Softball

Triad baseball’s final-four finish was four years in the making

Triad 11-year head coach Jesse Bugger presented his players with their IHSA Class 3A State fourth-place medals at Slammers Stadium in Joliet.
Triad 11-year head coach Jesse Bugger presented his players with their IHSA Class 3A State fourth-place medals at Slammers Stadium in Joliet.

Triad's disappointment in finishing fourth in IHSA Class 3A baseball will be temporary, 11-year head coach Jesse Bugger said.

Because, he added, if there's one thing the Knights will take away from their weekend at Slammers Stadium it's this: "7-25 is pretty far from Joliet."

Several members of the Knights' eight-man senior class were four-year starters and have taken their lumps to bring the program back from that seven-win season they suffered as freshmen.

They came close to their ultimate goal, falling just a win shy of 30 for just the second time in school history, a few stranded base runners short of their best-ever finish at state.

"This season, we met most of the expectations we set for ourselves," said Bugger, who led Triad to a fourth-place finish in 2012. "It was a four-year building process. I tried to tell these guys yesterday that I've thoroughly enjoyed the process, although those first couple of years were extremely difficult to deal with at times.

"But I appreciate how much they believed in us because they very easily could have not done so when we weren't getting the results when they were younger."

Playing through the hangover of a crushing extra-inning loss to St. Ignatius in the semifinals Friday, the Knights suffered a 4-0 loss to Nazareth Academy in the third-place game. The five-inning game was played on a tightened schedule due to the threat of storms.

Nazareth Academy scored four runs in the first inning, while Triad put its leadoff batter on in four of five innings, only to lose them on base or leave them stranded.

Morton, which had knocked off Nazareth Academy in Friday's first semifinal game, defeated St. Ignatius 4-1 to win the 3A championship. In the 4A title game, Plainfield North defeated Huntley 4-3.

Triad players remained stoic through the trophy presentation, probably because of what they've been through to get to this point, Bugger said. They expected to win it all.

Triad fell a victory shy of its second 30-win season in school history, but did match its best finish in state with the fourth-place trophy. Todd Eschman

"It's tough to deal with because it's not the end we had envisioned," Bugger said. "I find the third-place game about as tough to manage as any game that you possibly can. Nobody wants to be in that game. I don't want to be coaching that game; they don't want to be playing that game."

The senior Knights are Brady Arbogast, Nick Beeler, Chase Bertlesmann, Nate Huckla, Zach Kraabel, Mack Langdon and Josh Mesenbrink.

Beeler, who arrived at Joliet with a 9-2 record and 1.66 ERA, was primed to pitch the championship game after Langdon (3-2, 1.21 ERA) and Kraabel (6-3, 2.61 ERA) kept Triad in a position to win Friday. They allowed just two earned runs in the 3-2, eight-inning loss.

"I'm proud of our guys from stepping up like they did to play today," said Beeler, who will play next spring at McKendree University. "If we can't win, at least I'm happy to be playing on the last day of the season. Not too many teams can say that."

The Knights were 7-7 early in the season before rattling off 12 wins in their next 13 games. Their 8-0 super-sectional win over Chatham Glenwood was their 10th out of 11.

Mesenbrink led starters with a .441 batting average, six home runs, 17 doubles, three triples, and 43 runs scored to go with 31 RBIs. Travis Heilmann drove home 32 runs to lead that category. Fifteen Knights pitched at least one inning.

The Knights' 29 wins in 2018 were the second-most in school history.

"In the short term, it brings you down a little bit, but as you get away from it a little bit, I think, they'll be able to appreciate what they accomplished," Bugger said. "I know I appreciate the effort they put in for us."